Give Your Baby’s Developing Brain a Boost!
By this point, you have likely learned that what you eat during pregnancy can have a big effect on both you and your baby’s health. But did you know that there are certain nutrients that can specifically help with baby’s brain development? Choline, DHA, and Iron are all essential to baby’s brain development.
Choline is a nutrient necessary for healthy cell membranes and is involved in infant brain development, specifically in memory and learning functions. Several foods are rich sources of choline, including: shrimp and other seafood* (scallops, tuna, cod, wild salmon, sardines), poultry (chicken – especially chicken liver – and turkey), beef, pork, egg yolks, milk, peanuts, beans, collard greens, brussels sprouts, swiss chard, cauliflower, and spinach.
DHA is an omega 3 fatty acid. It is the major omega 3 involved in the development of the brain, nervous system, and retina. DHA is found predominantly in fatty fish. Pregnant women should eat 8 to 12 ounces (or 2 to 3 servings) of a variety of fish each week from options that are lower in mercury. Low mercury fish include wild salmon, tilapia, cod, shrimp, catfish and pollock. High mercury fish are shark, king mackerel, tilefish, swordfish and tuna. In fact, it is recommend limiting all types of tuna, especially white albacore tuna, to 6 ounces per week or skipping it altogether if you are able to purchase other types of fish.
Iron is also an important mineral needed by your growing baby for normal brain development. Foods rich in iron include red meat, pork, poultry, seafood, beans, dark green leafy vegetables like spinach, and iron fortified grains such as cereals, breads, and pastas.
- Vitamin C helps you better absorb iron. Vitamin C rich foods include broccoli, peppers, melons, kiwi, tomatoes, and citrus fruits like oranges. By combining iron rich foods with vitamin C rich foods you’ll absorb even more iron.
Selecting meals and snacks from the below listed options will help you choose foods that provide DHA, choline, or iron.
- Option 1: DHA-egg omelet with spinach, peppers, and optional sprinkle of cheese. Orange slices or grapefruit on the side.
- Option 2: Southwestern scramble: DHA eggs scrambled, top with black beans, avocado, and cheddar, wrap in whole grain tortilla; fresh fruit on the side.
- Option 3: Whole grain bread with peanut butter (or other nut butter) and choice of fruit
- Option 4: Strawberry banana smoothie made with plain Greek yogurt
- Option 5: Oatmeal made with milk or milk alternative, fruit (dried, fresh, or frozen), walnuts and/or flax seed
- Option 1: Salad with spinach, light tuna* or walnuts, cheese, peppers, tomatoes, beans; top with your choice of dressing.
- Option 2: Turkey sandwich (roasted turkey not deli meat) on whole grain bread or pita, veggies, hummus spread; cup of vegetable soup
- Option 3: Black bean and corn salad on whole grain tortillas topped with salsa and sliced avocado
- Option 4: Cooked quinoa tossed with mushrooms, bok choy, cauliflower, and a light teriyaki or black bean sauce
- Option 5: Lentil salad: cooked lentils, diced tomatoes, chopped carrots, fresh mint and a lemon/olive oil dressing
- Option 1: Vegetable stir fry (add chicken or fish if desired): brussels sprouts, bok choy, cauliflower, and peppers over brown rice, quinoa, or farro
- Option 2: Seared salmon and pesto pasta with a spinach salad
- Option 3: Roast chicken, barley, and sautéed green beans
- Option 4: Grilled shrimp and veggie skewers, brown rice
- Option 5: Whole grain pasta with tomato sauce, broccoli, tuna, beans, anchovies, and/or sardines
- Option 1: Small cup of plain yogurt with sprinkle of nuts and fruit
- Option 2: Fruit and nut bar (look for nuts and fruits as the only ingredients!)
- Option 3: Whole grain crackers and peanut or nut butter
- Option 4: Cut up veggie sticks and hummus
- Option 5: String cheese and piece of fruit
*Pregnant women should eat no more than 6 oz high-mercury fish per week
For more on this topic, check out the following articles:
- Getting enough choline? You? Your baby? Your child?
- Getting enough omega 3 fatty acid (DHA)? You? Your baby? Your child?
- How to ensure you and your baby are meeting your needs on a vegan (or mostly vegan) diet
- How to ensure you and your baby are meeting your needs on a vegetarian (or mostly vegetarian) diet
- Foods and ingredients to avoid while pregnant
- Food safety during pregnancy